Kadyrov used Kremlin blessing to eliminate enemies and take office

When Akhmat Kadyrov was assassinated in May 2004, his son Ramzan travelled to the Kremlin for a meeting with Vladimir Putin. In bizarre televised images at the end of the meeting, Mr Putin offered Ramzan his condolences and squeezed the hand of the young, ginger-bearded Chechen who became the first person ever to turn up to the Kremlin wearing a sky-blue tracksuit.

It was another three years before Ramzan officially became Chechnya's President, but for all intents and purposes, this was his coronation – he had been given Mr Putin's personal backing, and used it to outmanoeuvre, threaten and possibly even physically eliminate his enemies, whether they were in Chechnya or hiding abroad.

His face, along with that of his father and Mr Putin, stares down at Chechens from giant billboards placed on the rebuilt and repainted streets of central Grozny. He recently opened an enormous mosque in the capital and has advocated the banning of alcohol and gambling, and said women working in government offices should wear head scarves.

In a recent interview he went even further, calling for the introduction of polygamy, saying that Chechen men should ignore Russian laws and instead embrace Islamic traditions on marriage.

"There is no such law, but I say to everyone: those who have the desire and the means should take a second wife," he said.

He keeps a pet tiger at the heavily fortified compound in his home village of Tsenteroi, and has hosted former heavyweight boxing champion and convicted rapist Mike Tyson on a tour of the republic. Hundreds of people work to protect him from the array of enemies who might wish to see him eliminated.

So far, though, they have died off while he has survived.A former bodyguard, Umar Israilov, accused Mr Kadyrov and his supporters of kidnapping, torture, and murder; in January this year, a Chechen hit man killed him in Austria, where he had been granted asylum. Likewise, a former Chechen general and renowned foe of Mr Kadyrov, Sulim Yamadayev, was assassinated outside his apartment in Dubai in March.

The few Russian journalists who have investigated the internal politics of Chechnya in recent years paint a picture of an unpleasant tyrant who oversees a system riddled with torture and abuse.

One of his fiercest critics was Anna Politkovskaya, the Novaya Gazeta journalist who was murdered in 2006.

She had volubly attacked abuses against Chechen civilians by pro-Russian militias.

Many suspect Mr Kadyrov of involvement in her death. His response? "I don't kill women."

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